City Paper is not for tourists
Most lists of the city’s best restaurants tend to be very dinner-centric. But eating is, obviously, a round-the-clock activity, and what you crave at 7 p.m. probably isn’t the same as what you want at 7 a.m. For this year’s Food Issue, we’ve rounded up spots to satisfy your stomach every hour of the day—whether you’re looking for a morning pick-me-up or a booze-soaking late-night snack. Why shouldn’t the places serving breakfast tacos, midday brisket sandwiches, or last-call kabobs get as much press as the popular Friday-night date spots?
Our list aims to cover every urge and every budget—from $1 beers at Red Derby to a $125 all-you-can-eat feast at Rose’s Luxury. Mexican? Korean? Japanese? Chinese? Thai? Ethiopian? Spanish? Greek? Italian? It’s all here.
D.C. may not entirely be a city that never sleeps; it could still use more 24-hour joints. But the city’s restaurant boom has introduced a flurry of good options at nearly every hour. (Although, let’s face it—at 3 a.m., pretty much everything tastes good.) So no matter what time you’re reading this, we hope there’s something here to make you hungry. —Jessica Sidman
4819 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda; (301) 652-8990; 1718 Connecticut Ave. NW; (202) 299-9399;bethesdabagels.com
There’s a right way and a wrong way to load up on your round, boiled carbs on the weekends. The right way is to show up at Bethesda Bagel early—ideally, well before 10 a.m.—and beat the crowd. You won’t have to wait in line, and the morning’s batch of bagels will likely still be warm. Crusty and not too dense, the everything variety is liberally sprinkled with salt and garlic, the unsung heroes of the genre. A case full of schmears and smoked fish beckons, too; the chopped herring is nice and tart, there are two types of whitefish salad, and the low-fat versions of the scallion and lox cream cheese both taste rich enough that you don’t regret trying to pretend to eat healthily. The wrong way is to get here at noon, when every hungover 20-something within an easy Capital Bikeshare trip of the stores will have also just arrived. By then, you should already have moved on to your postfeast nap. —Mike Madden
La Mano Coffee Bar
304 Carroll St. NW; (202) 417-6266; lamanocoffee.com
On Saturday mornings, I have a ritual: I strap my 17-month-old son into the stroller and walk a mile to La Mano Coffee Bar. Positioned just across the street from the Takoma Metro station, the compact cafe offers up best-in-show beverages using beans from Ceremony Coffee Roasters. If it’s cold out, I order a latte; if I’m in shorts, an iced coffee. If I need a bigger boost, I add an espresso, which thoughtfully arrives with a glass of water to cleanse the palate. My son and I will hang out for a little while, chatting with the friendly staff and whomever else is passing through, and share a cheddar-egg-chorizo breakfast sandwich on an everything bagel. (OK, I do most of the talking and eating, but my boy’s contributions on both fronts are growing, just like he is.) It’s a simple tradition, yet it never fails to be a highlight of my week. —Nevin Martell
277 S. Washington St., Alexandria; (703) 683-3247;2413 Columbia Pike, Arlington.; (703) 920-0315;societyfair.net
Step into either the Arlington or Alexandria location of Society Fair with a few minutes to spare on your way to the office, and you’ll find great java from Annapolis-based Ceremony Coffee Roasters, breakfast sandwiches with organic eggs on fresh buttermilk biscuits, savory pastries studded with tomatoes, kale, and feta, and warm Irish oatmeal—a nod to owner Cathal Armstrong’s Dublin roots. Add a few spoonfuls of housemade granola, brown sugar, and toasted almonds for a sweet crunch. If you don’t have time to wait, grab a squeezed-that-morning orange juice, honey-laden yogurt made there with milk from Pennsylvania’s Trickling Springs Creamery, or a frittata breakfast “muffin” to go, and hit the road knowing your car smells better than anyone else’s on I-395. —Jessica Strelitz
600 Florida Ave. NW; (202) 735-5895; kafebohem.com
Finding the perfect coffee shop for someone who hates coffee but loves the free Wi-Fi that only comes via a purchase can be a daunting task. Many of the D.C. shops heralded for their quality coffee have lousy or limited food options. But not Kafe Bohem. Attached to Bistro Bohem in Shaw, it has the perfect strudel, and thus, it’s the perfect spot for people who don’t drink coffee and still want something tasty under $5. (This isn’t a comment on the establishment’s coffee; I’ve never tried it.) Every day brings a housemade strudel surprise: There’s the sweet chocolate-and-banana combo, the heavy ham-and-cheese option, and a slew of veggie versions, like kale-cheddar and roasted red pepper. You may even want to close your laptop to enjoy it. —Perry Stein
Multiple locations. districttaco.com
Forget coffee. It’s time to wake up and smell the tacos. Each morning before 7 a.m., the cooks at District Taco fire up the flat-top grill and fry a bevy of eggs, potatoes, and veggies in time to sling breakfast treats to morning commuters. Each taco comes packed with unlimited toppings like fresh jalapeño, beans, and pico de gallo. Diners can also dress their own tacos at the salsa bar, where options range from mild tomatillo to a request-only blazing-hot habanero. And if you’re a late sleeper, fear not: District Taco serves ’em all day. —Tim Regan
Red Apron Butcher
709 D St. NW; 202-524-5244; redapronbutchery.com
There is an art to the breakfast sandwich. Too often they’re packed with barely warm, pre-scrambled eggs, a slice of tasteless commercial grade cheese, and a circle of mystery meat with more texture than flavor. These barely edible fillings are usually bookended by crumbly biscuits, day-old bagels, or sandpaper dry toast.
So thank the old gods and the new for Nate Anda. The chef of Red Apron Butcher has created a series of top-notch breakfast sandwiches at the microchain’s Penn Quarter location, which opened in February. These morning munchies (available until 10:30 a.m. on weekdays and until 2:30 p.m. on weekends) weren’t created overnight: Anda has been studiously testing recipes for nearly two years and tried out dozens and dozens of iterations.
Five made the final cut, all served on disc-shaped Italian tigelle. The pucks look like smallish English muffins but taste more like pleasantly chewy crumpets. To cook them, they’re brushed with lard and griddled on a panini-style press, which leaves a charming floral imprint on the circlets.
If you’re looking for a straight-up wake-up, go for the Patriot, a riff on McDonald’s Egg McMuffin. Featuring your choice of bacon or sausage, an egg, a slather of maple butter, and a melted slice of bright orange American cheese, it’s a pitch-perfect upgrade of the iconic a.m. favorite. “American cheese is the crucial part,” says Anda without irony. “It makes the sandwich.”
Head below the Mason-Dixon line with the Southern Comfort: tasso ham, egg, spicy smoked pimento cheese. (Get a container of the house-made cheese spread to go; you’ll want another hit sooner rather than later.) The Buenos Días is a quick diversion to South America with egg, chorizo, pickled onion strands, and sour cream. The sleeper hit is the Herald (egg, tomato, cheddar, and Thousand Island dressing), which reminds me of an In-N-Out Animal Style cheeseburger without the patty.
Vegetarians can also opt for the so-so Aristocrat—don’t worry, it’s brushed with butter, not lard—a slightly sweet sandwich made with smoked pine nuts, honeyed ricotta cheese, and shaved Gala apples.
If you can’t make up your mind, don’t worry. “You can eat two of them and not feel bad about yourself,” says Anda. I would put that number closer to three. —Nevin Martell
1319 Rockville Pike, Rockville; (301) 251-7878; aj-restaurant.com
Arrive early at this the homey hole-in-the-wall on Rockville Pike if you want to be seated quickly. The compact, cash-only eatery fills up quickly on the weekends, and there’s nowhere you can rest your heels while you wait (unless you want to sit on the curb or in your car). The long lines are a testament to the fantastic northern Chinese–style dim sum, which emphasizes farmland favorites—beef, pork, and various vegetables—while completely eschewing seafood. Don’t worry if you don’t recognize an option or the Google search on your smartphone turns up contradictory results, because the warm, knowledgeable staff is happy to help. I always get a bowl of thick dan dan noodles dressed with peanut sauce and the pan-fried pork dumplings, but I’ll also add a couple of new choices to my order each trip. —Nevin Martell
2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; (202) 944-2000 ext. 2120; fourseasons.com/washington/dining/restaurants/seasons
Sunday brunch at Seasons at the Four Seasons is an exercise in one of the most extravagant forms of gluttony. Even if you generally shun buffets, you should still relish this $80 feast and its unabashed decadence, especially for special occasions. While a server pours endless mimosas, head to the raw bar for freshly shucked oysters, plump shrimp, crab claws, Indian-spiced scallops, and seared tuna. Float to the other side of the room for an omelet station crowded by platters of crab cakes, brisket, French toast, bacon, quail, and more than a dozen other options. A salad station comes stocked with nearly every seasonal fruit and veggie imaginable. And then there’s the guy pressing fresh masa and crisping it on a griddle for picaditos topped with lamb barbacoa and smoked pork. But try to save some stomach real estate for the dessert room. (No, not a dessert table. A dessert room.) As in a Parisian boulangerie, each little tart, pudding, and cake is more exquisite than the next. One container full of nut-covered chocolate and toffee brittle is labeled “cardiac arrest bar,” while another reads “type 2 bar.” And that pretty much sums up the meal. —Jessica Sidman
1520 14th St. NW; (202) 319-1404; estadio-dc.com
Kitchen wisdom has it that the true test of a cook’s skills is how he or she prepares eggs. If that’s true, you know Estadio’s crew’s got talent. A Spanish tortilla—classic with hot sweet peppers or dotted with jamón, green beans, and Mahón cheese—comes as soft and fluffy as a piece of cake. Fried eggs that accompany a chorizo and morcilla (blood sausage) hash provide a creamy yellow sauce with their oozing yolks. You can even try a fried goose egg, which is big enough to eclipse an entire plate of polenta and breakfast sausage. But the most decadent treat? Scrambled eggs with black truffle butter. Brunch cocktails are just as expertly crafted. Order the Toquito, a bloody mary with pimentón and pipparra peppers, or one of the seasonal slushitos, which recently included a cucumber and gin concoction with white pepper and lemon. —Jessica Sidman
2201 14th St. NW; (202) 234-5000; kapnosdc.com
Greek for brunch? But of course. Just when you thought the ultra-comforting, hangover-zapping dish of chicken and waffles couldn’t get any better, Kapnos proves you wrong by slinging that chicken onto a spit to impart smoky flavor, just like its signature goat and lamb. Similarly, Mike Isabella’s joint shies away from plain cream cheese in its Greek-inspired bagels and lox dish, subbing in taramasalata—a luxurious fish roe spread. Even the coffee packs a punch with Becherovka liqueur, cinnamon, fennel, ginger, and anise whipped cream. Mimosa drinkers can upgrade from O.J. to pineapple lemongrass juice for a quick pretend vacation. You’ll leave Kapnos with clothes that smell faintly of smoked meat and your phone open to a travel app, ready to book tickets to Greece. —Laura Hayes
Right Proper Brewing Company
624 T St. NW; (202) 607-2337; rightproperbrewery.com
It’s late on a weekend morning. Are you excited for brunch? Or are you more excited for Brunch
Here’s the good news: Eating and day drinking while stretching out the calm of a sunny Saturday is not the exclusive domain of soulless service! At Right Proper Brewing Company, the mid-day weekend menu offers a suitable tonic. Inside the normally bustling bar, you’ll find a more relaxed application of the most sessionable of local beers, a venerable cheese selection overseen by former Cowgirl Creamery cheesemonger Tim Lake, and hearty fare from breakfast tacos to the fried chicken sandwich Chick-fil-A wishes it made. Your awakening from a brunchy sleepwalk awaits. So go have a real meal, will you? —Aaron Morrissey
Woodward Takeout Food
1426 H St. NW; (202) 347-5355; woodwardtable.com
There is no bad sandwich at WTF. I say this confidently, because it’s the only place in town where I’ve actually tried every single thing on the sandwich board. Yes, my office is half a block away. But even if it wasn’t, I would still go out of my way to eat the toasted striata bread stuffed with merguez sausage and broccoli rabe, or the fried chicken Chick Chick (now named “Our Famous Chick Chick” on the menu—it’s that popular). WTF also has two of the best and heartiest vegetarian sandwiches in town: a cauliflower gyro with the works, as well as the Provençale, with layers of grilled eggplant, zucchini, portabella, onion, goat cheese, basil, olive-sundried tomato pesto, and peppers. Save room for something sweet: Giant Rice Krispie treats, face-sized snickerdoodle cookies, and the mountain of other desserts that greet you at the cash register make for a tempting afternoon snack. —Jessica Sidman
1513 17th St NW; (202) 733-5623; dukesgrocery.com
Don’t count on your usual order at Duke’s Grocery in Dupont Circle. The menu changes daily, and the dishes are as varied as chef Alex McCoy’s travels: Ukraine, Bali, Thailand, India, Nepal, Argentina, and Chile, to name just a few of the dozens of countries that he’s either lived in or visited for extended periods of time.
McCoy’s next trip is a month-long jaunt to Southeast Asia. One bite of his phanaeng curry, and you might consider booking a flight to Thailand, too. He takes kabocha, a pumpkin-like squash, and mixes it with slices of Thai eggplant and basil. Then he adds the heat of red chilis, some fish sauce, and a side of jasmine rice. The spice of the curry balances nicely with an order of his shredded papaya salad dressed in a vinaigrette of mint, crushed peanuts, lime juice, and more fish sauce.
The lunch menu also has a flavor of McCoy’s travels to South America. The recent porchetta sandwich is essentially Philly meets Patagonia: It looks a lot like a roasted pork hoagie that you might find on South Street, but it tastes like a smoked mozzarella sandwich that McCoy sampled while hiking across the Andes.
Try to peg McCoy to a particular home base, and he’ll tell you he grew up in Bethesda, but it sounds like he’s more tied to London. His parents met there, and he loves the energy of the city’s East End. So how does this define Duke’s menu? The globally inspired cooking is all very British. Many of the menu items are inspired by the country’s imperialist days, and it’s a small sampling of the many flavors and cultures that you’ll find particularly in East London, McCoy says.
British standards are easy to spot. All of the sandwiches are labeled “sarnies,” and the salt beef beigel is exactly what you would expect from a Jewish deli in London, McCoy says. Its chunks of house-cured beef and briny pickles are tucked into a bagel lathered with spicy mustard. For $5 extra, the “lunchbox special” tacks on a bag of crisps (English potato chips) and a soda or Natty Boh beer.
Happy hour is also very un-American. It runs much longer than your typical two hour stint here in D.C.: From noon until 7 p.m., a selection of beers and wine—or “bevvies”—go for $5 each. —Tim Ebner
2438 18th St. NW; (202) 629-1047; facebook.com/donburidc
Translated literally as “bowl,” donburi is just that: a bowl of rice with toppings. But at this Adams Morgan restaurant named after the Japanese dish, that simple translation doesn’t do it justice. On full display in the open kitchen, chef and owner James Jang carefully tops each order with anything from salmon sashimi to panko-fried pork with a gooey fried egg, pickled vegetables, and a special sauce that’s somewhere between dashi and soy sauce. Whether you’re sitting at one of the 15 counter seats or grabbing a meal to go, it’s hearty, quick, and self-contained—a godsend for the schedule-driven population of D.C. —Brian Oh
White House and Dupont Circle farmers’ markets, (202) 352-6645; chaiadc.com
For better or worse, many of the tacos in D.C. have been yuppified to the point where a small meal will set you back $10. In the case of Chaia tacos—which have little resemblance to what you’d find at most Mexican restaurants—that price tag is worth it. The handmade corn tortillas are filled with a variety of exclusively meatless combinations inspired by whatever’s in season that week. Some recent stuffings included mushrooms and feta; potato, spring asparagus, and creamy poblano sauce; and smokey zucchini with bovre cheese and radish. Unfortunately, this isn’t a fix you can get whenever you want. Chaia only sells at the farmers’ market by the White House on Thursdays and the Dupont market on Sundays. But stay tuned, because it’s looking to open a storefront in the near future. —Perry Stein
Asi Es Mi Tierra
2559 Ennalls Ave., Wheaton; (301) 942-2842
At Asi Es Mi Tierra, the ceviche takes center stage, but it’s also home to one of the area’s best sandwiches, the pan con chicharrón. At night, this tiny restaurant tucked away in a Wheaton strip mall is a bar with soccer and telenovelas on TV or live karaoke; on most weekends, it’s packed with Peruvian and Bolivian families. But during weekday lunch, it’s a quiet place to get Peruvian staples like leche de tigre (ceviche in a glass), anticuchos (marinated beef hearts), and aguadito de pollo (a traditional chicken gizzard soup). Whatever you do, don’t forget to order that pan con chicharrón. It’s almost hidden on the menu, listed under the breakfast options, but it’s the perfect mid-day sandwich: fried sweet potatoes, red onion salsa, and chunks of fatty pork stuffed in a roll that can barely contain it all. —Tim Ebner
1503 17th St. NW; (202) 462-8999; sushitaro.com
If Sushi Taro seems out of reach price-wise, you’re going about it all wrong. By visiting during daylight, you can escape the city’s authority on Japanese cuisine without bleeding dry your bank account. Colorful, flavorful bento boxes cost from $12.95 to $14.95 and provide a glimpse of chef Nobu Yamazaki’s artful and precise execution of tempura, sashimi, broiled fish, gleaming rice, pickles, and miso soup. All you do is choose between five main dishes like grilled salmon or fried oysters. (The sashimi options are on the safe side—mostly salmon, squid, and tuna—so you may not get to try Sushi Taro’s more unique fish offerings.) Japanese cuisine is rooted in proper portion size, eye-catching presentation, quality seasonal ingredients, and above all, balance. Bento boxes are representative of all of these values. Japanese parents pack balanced bento boxes for their kids, while businessmen crack them open aboard high-speed bullet trains. So go ahead, have a $13 lunch served with a side of culture—it’s a window into what else the restaurant offers. —Laura Hayes
2190 Pimmit Drive, Falls Church; (703) 639-0505; tacobambarestaurant.com
During the Taco Bamba lunch rush, you’re lucky to snag a stool. “Our lunch is probably the most popular meal. People are eating in their cars and sometimes on the curb,” says chef and owner Victor Albisu. Seats or no seats, any visit to Falls Church must also include a stop at Taco Bamba for the TNT, a beef tongue and tripe taco; the Camarón Diabla, a spicy shrimp taco; and the Tinga, a stewed chicken taco. Lunch specials rotate, but you’ll usually find a drink and three tacos runs about $10. There are sides, too: Grilled corn on the cob is coated in a mayonnaise sauce, then rolled in bits of Cotija cheese and red chili seasoning. For larger appetites, upgrade to the sopes menu: These are larger versions of the tacos, served on fried tortillas for $6 each. —Tim Ebner
1425 28th St. NW; (202) 506-3125; stachowskimarket.com
The soul-satisfying pastrami sandwich need not be upscaled. Do not hybridize it, do not deconstruct it, do not puff it up, do not trick it out, and definitely do not overhype it. (Don’t overslather it with mustard, either.) Stachowski’s knows this. It knows that the meat matters most, which is why its slices of beef—pepper-caked, smoke-bathed, super-salted, lightly condimented, and more marbled than the Capitol Rotunda—take up about six times as many inches as the slices of bread they’re stacked between. At this point the Georgetown butcher’s pastrami ’wich needs little trumpeting—Washington City Paper lauds it nearly every special issue we do—but fuck it: Grab one for lunch, save half for dinner, and quickly concede that this monster will probably take over tomorrow’s lunch, too. —Jonathan L. Fischer
8 Florida Ave. NW; (202) 733-1919; dcitysmokehouse.com
Since DCity Smokehouse’s tiny storefront only includes a handful of stools, your best option is to let the barbecue masters cook up a spread for your afternoon picnic. Start with the sandwiches: a Meaty Palmer—the turkey, pork belly, and avocado concoction named Washington City Paper’s best sandwich—is essential, but don’t discount the Torta, a grilled chicken number dripping with chipotle aioli. Other highlights include the shrimp po’ boy, packed with enormous fried crustaceans, and the beefy Brisket Champ, topped with fried onions. Throw in an order of smoky pit wings to take advantage of the chipotle ranch dipping sauce, then turn your attention to side orders. Doughy hushpuppies with honey add sweetness, while the red chili coleslaw provides a refreshing, crunchy contrast to rich meat. You want vegetables? Here they come in the form of roasted Brussels sprouts and housemade pickles. Tell your friends to meet you at a park, indulge in all the glorious food, and when the coma hits, lie back and take a nap. —Caroline Jones
Bub and Pop’s
1815 M St. NW; (202) 457-1111; bubandpops.com
It’s hard to believe that this downtown sandwich shop is only a little more than a year old, because it looks more like 50. I mean that in the best of ways. It feels like it has history (perhaps thanks to the home photos on the walls), with the kind of character that so many restaurants hopelessly try to manufacture. Channeling a Philly vibe is co-owner Arlene Wagner, who’s more like your mom than an anonymous face behind a cash register. She is, in fact, the mother of chef Jonathan Taub, who brings a serious resume, including stints at Art & Soul and now-closed Adour, to the sandwich shop. His experience shows in the tender slices of slow roasted porchetta, which overflow from a sandwich with hazelnut gremolata, aged provolone, (optional) broccoli rabe, and pork jus. Just as marvelously messy is Pop’s braised beef brisket with apple horseradish cream, five-year-aged gouda, veal jus, and a fried egg (for a dollar extra). Make sure to grab extra napkins. —Jessica Sidman
Baked & Wired
1052 Thomas Jefferson St. NW; (202) 333-2500; bakedandwired.com
It worships sugar, but no one could call Baked & Wired sickly sweet. After all, what other bakery in D.C. has Pixies lyrics pasted on its front window? That slightly subversive spirit continues inside, where top-notch baked goods have major personality and names like the “Big Ass Cookie” or the shortbread bar called “Kick in the Nuts.” These are our people, and that’s why this is one of the best spots in Washington for an afternoon sugar rush—and a caffeinated pick-me-up. The giant cupcakes here put Baked & Wired on the tourist map, and rightly so, as illustrated by the strawberry variety made with real strawberries. But on a hot summer afternoon, you gotta try the Bakewich, featuring two perfect chocolate chip cookies sandwiched together with creamy vanilla ice cream and a smattering of spare chips. —Adele Chapin
1309 5th St. NE; (703) 400-5363; dcempanadas.com
It’s 3 p.m. at Union Market, and all that shopping and stroller-dodging has left you hungry. Too early for a wine flight; too late for a Red Apron meat bomb. The answer: an empanada. Sit down, dunk your prize in those darling cupfuls of hot sauce, and watch the babies roll by. —Jenny Rogers
The Pretzel Bakery
340 15th St. SE; (202) 251-0953; thepretzelbakery.com
Your options are pretty limited at The Pretzel Bakery, which is why this pretzel stand on Capitol Hill is a no-brainer when it comes to an afternoon snack. You’re here? You’re ordering a pretzel. Choose from three flavors: plain, sweet, or everything-garlic flavor. The pretzel dough rivals anything that New Yorkers brag about in their bagels, and each arrives freshly baked from the oven. The only other decision you need to make is your dipping condiment. There’s the no-fuss option: free mustard. Or for a $1 more, sweeten your pretzel with Nutella or caramel mustard. Philadelphia cream cheese and whole grain mustard are also available. Or better yet, beef it up. During the summer on most weekends, The Pretzel Bakery owner Sean Haney grills pretzel dogs—a pretzel wrapped around a hotdog. Of course the best way to wash down a Philadelphia-inspired afternoon snack is with an Italian water ice. These frozen treats come in either lemon, cherry, or mango. —Tim Ebner
Sona Creamery and Wine Bar
660 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; (202) 758-3556; sonacreamery.com
One of Capitol Hill’s most charming new additions marks a culinary first for the District. When the creamery begins churning out fresh chevre this summer, it will become the first cheese-making operation in D.C.’s history. Aside from housemade fromage, the bright, high-ceilinged eatery offers approximately 100 different options, which rotate regularly. Whether you have a yen for a blue, are craving cheddar, or are sweet on soft rind rounds, the cheery cheesemongers will help you indulge. Stop in for a late afternoon bite between 3 and 5 p.m. to enjoy the compact midday menu (the full dinner menu begins at 5 p.m.), which includes the best turkey burger in D.C.—a juicy, well-packed patty dressed up with buttery Landaff cheese, arugula, and aioli. Order it with a side of the sweet, swiney, and briny bacon jam; you can sop up any left over with a plate of the stellar skin-on fries. —Nevin Martell
Rappahannock Oyster Bar
1309 5th St. NE; (202) 544-4702; rroysters.com
If you’re going to trust anyone to serve you fresh oysters, it should probably be the guys who also operate their own oyster farm. Rappahannock Oyster Bar co-owners and cousins Ryan and Travis Croxton bring their bivalves straight from the Chesapeake Bay to their outpost at Union Market. A perch at the bar provides a perfect view not just of the shucking action, but of the bustle of the hall. Sucking down Olde Salts and Stingrays with a glass of sparkling wine is an ideal way to idle away an afternoon or stop for a quick break between Righteous Cheese and Harvey’s Market. For a more substantial snack, don’t miss the lambs and clams. —Jessica Sidman
Fuego Cocina y Tequileria
2800 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington; (571) 970-2180; fuegova.com
For a brown flip-flop-free happy hour in Arlington, head to the bar at this spicy Clarendon spot for unique cocktails and made-from-scratch Mexican food. Arrive before 6 p.m. on Tuesdays for the best chance at a seat, and grab a pair of tacos for $5. Try wrapping tender roasted goat, marinated pork with pineapple serrano salsa, or saucy chicken tinga with queso fresco in Fuego’s housemade corn tortillas. There are also food specials all day Sunday. Don’t miss the $5 empanadas de vegetales stuffed with goat cheese, roasted corn, and funky huitlacoche, or the tilapia ceviche with plenty of habanero and lime. And if you’re going to a place with “tequileria” in the name, you’d better like the sauce: Cocktails like Amor Prohibido, a blend of Tequila Silver, strawberry puree and lime with a kicky chile de arbol salted rim, and Mala Suerte, a house-infused habanero tequila mixed with grapefruit juice, lime, and agave, are discounted every day. —Jessica Strelitz
1323 Connecticut Ave. NW; (202) 524-5210; gbdchickendoughnuts.com
The Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s temple to all things fried chicken and doughnuts might not be the first place you think of for happy hour, but remember that GBD comes from the same minds behind beer havens ChurchKey and Bluejacket. Behind the bar, you’ll find about 20 taps curated by Greg Engert, NRG’s beer super-nerd, representing breweries like De Struise and Dieu du Ciel. Stop in for happy hour from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday for $3, $4, and $5 beers that rotate through the taps. It’s a great way to sample a range of less common beers at a bargain. If you need a break from beer, $5 punches range from hibiscus-vodka to honeydew-gin. Let’s also not forget that there’s still the whole range of fried doughnut goodness to accompany the booze. —Brian Oh
1317 Connecticut Ave. NW; (202) 293-4400; dgsdelicatessen.com
A generously long happy hour combined with an underrated bar program and creative list of six $5 bites make DGS a top pick for post-work camaraderie. “The Art of Kung Jew” is a favorite snack, and while it sounds like a Jackie Chan movie starring Larry David, it’s actually a set of Reuben egg rolls served with spicy Russian dipping sauce. Also try loaded latkes and fried chicken with dill mayo. The art of the deep fryer isn’t lost on this culinary team; their fried dishes always come out Golden Brown Delicious, like their next-door neighbor. Drinkwise, $7 is a nice price for an Old Fashioned–like cocktail called The Mensch. The creation of beverage director Brian Zipin is made with Old Overholt Rye, Peychaud’s Bitters, and blood orange. Also on offer during happy hour, from 4 to 7 p.m.: six different $4 beers and $6 wine, including something bubbly. So be a mensch and buy your friends or co-workers a round. —Laura Hayes
1843 7th St. NW; (202) 316-9396; drinkmoresherry.com
Shaw’s sherry and ham bar recognizes that most people who enter are sherry virgins in need of guidance. That’s the impetus behind “sherry hour,” a chance to try a free glass on Tuesdays from 5 to 6 p.m. But be warned: The staff, led by co-owner and sherry sultaness Chantal Tseng, is so engaging that you shouldn’t be surprised if one sip turns into a long evening of getting to know a product that’s been around for 3,000 years. Sherry isn’t necessarily that sweet tipple Grandma used to sip; she was probably drinking a cream sherry that sat around too long. (Poor Grandma.) Finos, Manzanillas, Amontillados, and Olorosos all have personalities of their own, and Tseng calls sherry “a cocktail in a glass” because of its ridiculous complexity. After a free glass, keep on going with a themed flight and a snack to cap off happy hour (which runs, unlike most, for only an hour). Also visit on Wednesdays from 5 to 7 p.m., when they’ll carve you a few slices of ham for free. Then there’s #PunchoutFriday: the bar serves a sherry punch until it runs dry for $8 a mug. —Laura Hayes
The Red Derby
3718 14th St. NW; (202) 291-5000; redderby.com
The best part of an evening at the Red Derby is the double-take. That’s the moment when, after downing a burger and three beers, you glance at your check and see an $8 tab. There’s been no mistake: During happy hour from 5 to 8 p.m. every day, beers are $1 off, which means if your tastes run from Natty Bohs to Stroh’s, you’re paying a buck a beer. If it’s Monday, your burger’s half off—$5 for a no-frills version and $6 for the Derby Burger with avocado, sprouts, and other goodies. (On some other nights, it’s half-price tacos or seafood.)
What else do you get for your $8? In addition to a full stomach and a healthy buzz, you gain access to a wide selection of games (the pool table’s gone, but Cards Against Humanity is a worthy replacement), the coolest waitstaff around, and probably the most laid-back roof deck in town. Just make sure to adjust your mental math: It takes as much work to pop open a $1 Boh as a $7 Dale’s elsewhere, so bump up your tipping percentage accordingly. —Aaron Wiener
1511 17th St. NW; littleserow.com
At this point, you know the drill: Get to Little Serow early because the doors open at 5:30 p.m., and chances are the line’s already halfway down the block. But your patience is always rewarded at Komi chef Johnny Monis’ family-style northern Thai hideaway. A bright bouquet of radishes, cucumbers, herbs, and lettuces and a basket of sticky rice are weapons to attack sour bites of pork jowl with glass noodles or the heavily spiced ground catfish with a confetti of crispy shallots. The $45 seven-course feast culminates with sweet and tangy short ribs so tender the meat barely clings to the bone. Former New York Times critic and Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl even visited recently. “There is not, I don’t think, another restaurant quite like this one,” she wrote on her blog. She only discovered what Washingtonians have known for years now. —Jessica Sidman
1541 14th St. NW; (202) 232-0920; ettodc.com
When Etto first opened, co-owner Tad Curtz described it as “a salumi and anchovy bar with a side of killer bread and some pizza.” That seemed odd at the time, since Curtz’s fellow owners are founders of pizza mecca 2 Amys. But in fact, one of the best ways to enjoy Etto is to graze on the “fishies,” handmade salumi, simple salads, and whatever’s “on the board” that night. The team behind Etto understands better than anyone that fancy preparations and complicated recipes will always be trumped by the best ingredients prepared simply. A celery salad sounds about as boring and bland as it gets, but walnuts, pecorino, and really good olive oil with citrus will make you rethink the bloody mary garnish. Superb simplicity is also found in a recent dish with green beans, pine nuts, crispy ham, and a sweet aged balsamic, or a snack of fava bean spread with mint and pecorino on homemade crackers. Go before 7 p.m. and you’ve got a pretty good shot at a seat. And because much of the fare is light, you can make Etto a jumping off point for your 14th Street NW restaurant and bar crawl. Or, you know, idle the evening away with a bottle of Sicilian wine. —Jessica Sidman
1800 14th St NW; (202) 733-5131; doimoidc.com
For a lot of trendy restaurants around D.C. these days, reservations are passé—which means a lot of three-hour waits and dinners that start at 10:30 p.m. At Doi Moi, they’ll actually let you book in advance, but only for 5, 5:30, and 6 p.m. So grab an early table and feast at ease on Southeast Asian cuisine from executive chef Haidar Karoum and Laotian-born chef de cuisine Deth Khaiaphone. The “sai grok” sour sausage, ground duck and duck liver salad, and “khao soi” chicken and egg noodle curry are solid choices. So is the dramatic, crispy whole fish, which takes a bit of time to pull apart. Pay attention to the “phet” (spicy) and “phet mak” (very spicy) labels, so you’re prepared for some heat. To drink, don’t miss the passion fruit, coconut, and Oloroso sherry cocktail or a bottle of funky and reasonably priced Villa Wolf Gewurztraminer ($27). Finally, save room for the soft serve that comes in faraway flavors like pandan—a tropical plant. —Laura Hayes
2 Birds 1 Stone
1800 14th St. NW; 2birds1stonedc.com
If you’re eating dinner pretty much anywhere on 14th Street NW, chances are you’ve got an hour to kill before your table is ready (unless, that is, you took our advice and booked an early table upstairs at Doi Moi). 2 Birds 1 Stone is an oasis amid the chaos of busy host stands and overcrowded patios. The tall booths and little nooks ensure you can actually have a private conversation. But the real reason to come is for Adam Bernbach’s cocktails. Each week the bar manager draws a new comic book-esque menu (one was recently dedicated to sneakers; another was an ode to the Pocket Rocket audio players of the ’80s). You can’t go wrong with whatever you pick, especially drinks that utilize Bernbach’s unique sodas, like banana, bay leaf, or ginger. Even a piña colada, neglected by most serious bartenders, is a good choice for its fresh ingredients rather than syrupy slush. —Jessica Sidman
717 8th St. SE; (202) 580-8889; rosesluxury.com
Perhaps you’ve savored Rose’s Luxury’s now-famous lychee and pork salad and bought the hype surrounding its smoked brisket platter. But you haven’t experienced chef Aaron Silverman’s restaurant in its full splendor until you’ve gathered a group of friends for an all-you-can-eat feast on the herb-and-flower-filled roof garden on a summer evening.
Unfortunately, snagging a reservation at this sought-after table is nearly as tough as walking in with a group of four on a Friday night. The restaurant releases new reservations on its website at 11 a.m. every Monday three weeks in advance, and every seating is typically booked up in minutes. Dining on the roof garden isn’t cheap at $125 per person (which ends up being closer to $200 with tax, tip, and a few drinks), and your party must include eight to 10 people. But having a big group forces you to turn your dinner date into a dinner party, which ultimately makes the evening feel all that much more like a celebration.
The rules for the roof are pretty simple: Tell the server (who will be dedicated solely to your table the entire night) if you have any preferences or allergies and then prepare to be bombarded with course after course. It only stops coming when you say it does. While you can certainly get more than your fill of food and drink for less than $125 in the main dining room, it’s not quite as special. As a roof garden guest, you’ll be treated to Silverman’s greatest hits no longer on the menu (ahem, popcorn soup with lobster), plus new creations no one else has gotten to try yet.
On a recent visit, my party started with oysters glistening in a rosé vinegar with pink peppercorn and pickled shallots served in an ice-filled clam shell the size of a punch bowl, plus a platter of crab claws with ramp vinegar and ramp aioli for dipping. Every time the door opened, a new treat appeared: grilled asparagus with fried and fresh jalapeños, pineapple in pineapple aioli, and chive oil; a spicy lemongrass seafood stew with shrimp, clams, and mussels; and simple parmesan and black pepper gnocchi that melt as soon as they hit your tongue. By my count, we went through 11 savory dishes and four desserts.
Dinner on the roof garden begins at 6:30 p.m., and when I visited, it didn’t end until 11:30. But unlike some exhausting tasting menus, I have no idea where that time went. With good booze, food, and company, you’ll want to stay all night. —Jessica Sidman
709 D St. NW; (202) 524-5322; thepartisandc.com
Does any upscale eatery not make its own salumis and pates these days? Every chef seems to be dabbling in the dark arts of charcuterie, but none does it quite as uniquely as Nate Anda at The Partisan. A negroni becomes the inspiration for a Campari-rosemary salami, while another sausage is infused with Fernet branca. Thought you hated bologna? Wait until you try the stuff Anda’s making with foie gras and truffles, emulsified with brandy. Whether it’s goose ham or wild boar paté, you’d be hard-pressed to find charcuterie this creative anywhere in town. The Partisan’s sushi-style menu—where you mark what you want with a pencil—makes it easy to sample many of the 30-plus offerings, which are divided in categories like “spiced,” “herbal and floral,” “earthy,” and “smoky.” Each charcuterie board is accompanied by mustard, preserved fruit, and tigelle—the Italian cousin to the English muffin. The Partisan has a whole menu worth exploring beyond charcuterie, but whatever you do, order at least one round of this meat mastery. —Jessica Sidman
608 T St. NW; (202) 667-4700; facebook.com/zenebechinjera
There are countless Ethiopian restaurants in D.C., most both delicious and affordable. Every D.C. resident has their favorite one, and for me, it’s Zenebach next to the Howard Theatre. Even though the area has seemingly upscaled overnight (there’s a microbrewery on the same block!), the neighborhood restaurant maintains its same no-frills vibe. The friendly staff knows all the regulars (and their orders) and are always open to chat or explain the different food options. While sipping on a $4 Ethiopian beer, try the veggie combo, which comes with plenty of injera and six different vegetable dishes, including yellow split peas, chickpea stew, and red lentils—enough to comfortably feed two hungry people for $10. To top it all off: Zenebech has outdoor seating this year on Duke Ellington Plaza. It’s the perfect low-key, affordable hangout spot in Shaw, which is an increasingly rare commodity in the changing neighborhood. —Perry Stein
2700 New York Ave. NE; (202) 636-3588
Neighboring a gas station with a Dunkin’ Donuts, Panda Gourmet resides inside a Days Inn, where cop cars always seem to be parked out front. The dining room is equally underwhelming, with an empty fish tank, outdated carpet, and bow-tied cartoon panda logo on the back wall. But this is not the kind of place you come for aesthetics. You come for the best Chinese in the District. The restaurant specializes in cuisine from the neighboring Sichuan and Shaanxi provinces of central China; stick to those sections of the menu. (FYI, Panda Gourmet has nothing to do with Panda Express, whose bastardized take on Chinese food pollutes mall food courts and airports.) Noodles are a good place to start, whether it’s the slippery dan dan ones or the delicate, air-light shaanxi-style homemade variety. Super tender lamb with cumin fills your senses with the spice, while ribbon-like sliced pork belly has the texture of al dente pasta and comes draped in a sweet sesame-studded sauce that resembles mole in its chocolate color. While Szechuan cooking is typically laced with numbing peppercorns, I’ve found Panda Gourmet’s heat relatively tame. But unlike its lackluster surroundings, the flavors here still pack a punch. —Jessica Sidman
The Red Hen
1822 1st St. NW; (202) 525-3021; theredhendc.com
When you walk into The Red Hen, you’ll notice a pile of wood stacked near the door. No, that’s not just another part of the rustic decor. Pay attention, and you might just catch one of the cooks fetching a piece of that Virginia oak to help fuel the grill that’s cooking your dinner. Chef Michael Friedman harnesses smoke and flames for much of his Italian-influenced American menu—whether it’s the lamb sandwich, smoked ricotta crostini, or the crispy baby artichokes. Don’t leave without trying one of the housemade pastas, particularly the satisfyingly simple rigatoni with fennel ragu. Co-owner Sebastian Zutant, who was serving orange wine before it was cool, complements the cooking with an unusual set of wines and a solid list of cocktails. An Aperol spritz is always six bucks, and a bottle of rosé is always $35. —Jessica Sidman
3418 11th St. NW; (202) 588-7442; dc-maple.com
Each dish at this tiny Italian-influenced wine spot features an ingredient that elevates it from ordinary to awesome: A short rib panini, already packed with piles of shredded, juicy meat and long strings of melted Fontina gets an added zip from slices of house-pickled red onions, while olives lend a sumptuous lamb ragu an extra layer of flavor. And it’s not just the main courses that feel special. Toast painted with fig jam and topped with prosciutto and gorgonzola pops in the low light, and a recent burrata special was a perfectly fluffed creamy pillow. Sure, you may have to wait a while for a table, but grab an excellent Amaro Manhattan at the massive maple bar and be patient: Soon Maple will expand into the space next door, and seating will just about double. —Caroline Jones
705 6th St NW; (202) 589-1600; daikaya.com
Daikaya is a house divided. Upstairs in the izakaya, diners prey on Japanese snacks and fancy cocktails. But at the downstairs ramen bar, those with heftier appetites gulp down bowls of salty ramen late into the night. Standing over a huge steel pot, the chef ladles spoonfuls of the restaurant’s signature Chintan stock—a combination of chicken, pork, and beef—into a bowl. Then come the noodles (imported from Sapporo) and pork, bean sprouts, nori, and scallions. Unceremoniously, the bowl is pushed in your direction, your signal to chow down. Swapping between chopsticks and spoon, eating the ramen can be a tricky sport, made even trickier by the night’s previous rounds of sake. But you press on, pausing only to gulp down Japanese beer served in a frosty glass mug. Belly full, you leave Daikaya ready to conquer the night or go to bed. —Tim Regan
855 E St. NW; (202) 393-4451; minibarbyjoseandres.com
If you don’t have a few hundred dollars to blow at Minibar but want to experience some José Andrés–style spectacle, head to Barmini. The “cocktail lab” has all the whimsy and sophistication of its sister restaurant, but in liquid form. It’s tough to say this is a place you should come for a nightcap, because really it’s a place you should come for three nightcaps. The cocktail list is more than 100 drinks long, including classic and avant-garde concoctions, divided by spirit. The cotton candy Old Fashioned is always fun: A fluff of sugar on top of the glass is dissolved as the bartender pours the brown liquid over it. And one of the most popular drinks, for good reason, is the Veruca Salt, with a peanut rum and pineapple grog. If the selection is too daunting, Barmini’s expert bartenders are always happy to make you something based on your liquor and flavor preferences. Served in antique glassware, often with hand-sawed cubes of crystal clear ice, every drink is Instagram-worthy. A late-night snack is always in order, whether it’s the banh mi burger or avocado toast. And as you look through the window separating Barmini from Minibar while biting into the oozing foiffle (foie gras waffle), you won’t be jealous at all. —Jessica Sidman
Cashion’s Eat Place
1819 Columbia Road NW; (202) 797-1819; cashionseatplace.com
Late-night food doesn’t have to mean just jumbo slices or half-smokes. At Cashion’s Eat Place, the “after dark” menu is just as farm-driven, creative, and tasty as everything else they serve. From 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. on weekends, the restaurant rolls out bison Sloppy Joe’s, rabbit liver mousse, grilled eggplant sandwiches, cheese, cheese, and cheese. Nothing’s usually more than five bucks or so, and it’s a quiet haven from most of its Adams Morgan neighbors around midnight. Which is exactly why co-owner Justin Abad says he and his partners launched the menu shortly after they took over the restaurant in 2007. “When we were getting off of work at 11:30, 12, there were basically two places we could go to eat: The Diner, or drive out to Bistro Français,” says Abad, who worked at Cashion’s before buying it. “Why can’t I just get a really well-made sandwich, like, right now, in a place where I can actually talk to someone without a bouncer standing by the front door and club music thumping?” he used to wonder.
The “after dark” menu was recently rebooted and moved up an hour (it didn’t used to start until midnight), mostly because “it would be the same two people” there between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. every night, Abad says. Now every Friday and Saturday night features two hot items and two cold items that can be mostly prepped ahead of time and served by a small staff that sticks around after the kitchen stops making dinner. About 40 or 50 people come in most nights, usually either regulars or workers from other restaurants, not refugees from the mayhem outside the pizza joints around the block, says Abad: “What the rest of the late-night food is going for in Adams Morgan is a very different client base than we are going for.” —Mike Madden
1017 7th St. NW; (202) 393-1313; hogodc.com
Every drink tastes better in a pineapple. At least that’s the case within the sea green walls of Hogo, which specializes in “tiki nuevo” cocktails. For $5 extra, the bartenders will carve out the tropical fruit in front of you and use it as a vessel for any one of their beach-transporting drinks. The bar specializes in rum—owner Tom Brown has amassed close to 100 bottles—but tequila, mezcal, and pisco are also heavily poured. If you’ve got a group, go for one of the elaborately garnished scorpion bowls that come with long straws and a flame in the middle. Getting hungry? Head to the back of the bar, and you’ll find a diner counter where the house menu typically features Caribbean and South American dishes. Hogo rotated through a number of guest chefs in its first year, serving everything from Jewish deli food to Scandinavian fare. But on my last visit, the kitchen was closed. (Instead, you could bring in food from elsewhere.) But whatever is or isn’t cooking, you can rest easy knowing the cocktail-in-a-pineapple in front of you will always have a mini-umbrella. —Jessica Sidman
Multiple locations. falafelshop.com
After a night of bar-hopping, only certain foods will quell the beer-induced hunger pangs. It has to be greasy, it has to be plentiful, and Falafel hits the spot just right. Order and watch Amsterdam’s falafel-fetchers get to work frying the golden chickpea balls, pulling them from the fryer and slapping them between pita in less time than it would take to call an Uber home. The beautifully spherical falafel balls should then be flattened between the bread—a custom passed down from one inebriated diner to another—to make room for the 21 sauces and toppings, from hummus and tzatziki to sliced cucumbers and spicy peppers. —Tim Regan
4121 Hummer Road, Annandale; (703) 914-4646; yechon.com
Korean cuisine is not all that different whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner. At any meal, you’ll still find potently spiced flavors, pickled and fermented vegetables, and grilled meats. This makes it an appropriate meal at basically any time of day. So when you’ve gone out drinking and find yourself with a strong need for some kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew) or dolsot bibimbap (mixed rice, vegetables, and meat in a hot stone bowl), you need only look to Yechon in Annandale. Anything you could possible want within the realm of Korean cuisine is available there, 24 hours a day. —Brian Oh
1400 W St. NW; (202) 448-9217; fastgourmetdc.com
This small sandwich shop located in the Valero gas station on 14th and W streets NW has become a staple of late-night grub. Open until 5 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, Fast Gourmet must have served thousands upon thousands of their massive chivito sandwiches to D.C.’s drunken weekend masses since it opened in 2010. These imposing, meaty, salty sandwiches are ideal alcohol sponges after a night of bar-hopping and have probably helped more than a few struggling revelers rally for the night. —Brian Oh
2315 S. Eads St., Arlington; (703) 486-3535; kabobpalaceusa.com
There’s something to be said for the place that makes you crave it in the wee morning hours. Better still is when that place is actually open then. Kabob Palace isn’t only one of the best places for Afghan food in the D.C. area, but it’s open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Skewers of roast lamb, marinated chicken, and ground sirloin sweat over the grill while perpetual crowds, diverse and hungry, hover for open seats at the handful of tables. Whether it’s post-New Year’s Eve celebration or at 9:30 a.m. on a routine Wednesday, Kabob Palace continues to churn out the same juicy, deliciously seasoned meat and creamy chickpeas no matter what’s going on outside its doors. —Brian Oh